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Choose the brush that is right for you.

Posted on March 08, 2017 by Hayley McMachan


The Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care


Every artist knows that painting takes years of dedication, patience, and skill. Just like making the world’s finest brushes. For thousands of years, the basic elements of the brush have remained the same. But making a brush today worthy of that heritage requires generations of skill, an understanding of which hairs provide the greatest expressive control, an uncompromising eye in selecting the finest raw materials, and the experience that shows that – while some things can be better achieved with machines and technology – there are some that can still be done only with the human hand and eye.


The right brush serves as a fluid extension of the hand, wrist, and mind. The wrong brush for the job – or brush of poor quality – becomes a hindrance or an obstacle.



  • Evenly and crisply shaped (not split or splayed)

  • Natural hairs should be evenly tapered (not blunt or cut)
  • Hair or filaments should be tightly bound, with no gap at the ferrule and no shedding


  • Seamless (to prevent internal seepage)

  • Tightly secured to the handle with deep double crimps
  • Smooth finish and edges
  • Rustproof


Straight and symmetrical

  • No chips or cracks or raw wood

  • Well­balanced with comfortable weight and grip
  • Clear imprint


  • Point – Does it come to a crisp point and hold that point during use?
  • Snap and spring – Does the brush spring crisply back into shape? The right degree of spring allows superior control over the brush on the painting surface.
  • Flow control – Does colour flow evenly and consistently from the point? Is there enough capacity within the ‘belly’ of the brush to lay down flowing, gestural strokes of colour?

The hair that best meets these needs is taken from carefully selected kolinsky sable tails. When properly made, a kolinsky brush offers a rapier like point, perfectly balanced spring, and extraordinary capacity and flow control. Other hairs that offer varying degrees of performance include:

  • Good performance: second grade sable, squirrel (for wash brushes), and synthetic/natural hair blends or synthetic alone.
  • Moderate performance: ox (sabeline), goat, and camel (not true camel hair, but a mixture of soft hair).


  • Firmness of bristle – Is the bristle capable of moving heavy bodied colour over the surface with authority?
  • Tip control – Does the bristle or hair allow subtlety and nuance in blending? Fine control when creating detail?

For heavy bodied colour, the ideal bristle is from hog or boar. Properly dressed, the finest quality hog brushes offer superior firmness and flagged ends for nuanced control and blending. In addition, fine hog bristle can be naturally ‘interlocked’ during manufacturing to create a tight, well formed brush head that guarantees superior control. As colour is ‘let down’ for finer blending or glazing work, the ideal hair is softer and more supple, such as badger or a synthetic.


  • Firmness of bristle – Is the bristle capable of moving heavy bodied colour over the surface with authority?
  • Tip control – Does the bristle or hair allow for subtlety and nuance in blending?. Undamaged by water or acrylic resins?. Synthetic filaments can be produced with a range of ‘springiness.’ With the proper manufacturing techniques, they offer good flow control, and a well defined tip or edge for detail and blending work. And they are resistant to damage from acrylic resin and won’t soften in water (as will natural bristle brushes).


Fine brushes will offer many years of service – if the following very simple points are followed: Always clean your brushes immediately after use

  • Do not leave brushes soaking in solvents or water for an extended period of time • Never leave brushes resting on their heads or tufts
• Shape the head after cleaning
• Never point a brush in your mouth


  • Avoid storage in direct sunlight
  • For prolonged storage, store sable brushes in an air tight box
  • Mothballs may be used to deter moths
  • Sable brushes used for water colour should not be used with other media


  • To restore a damaged or blunt brush head, dip bristles in boiling water, blot on towel, and shape head
  • Brushes used with oil will acquire and keep a slight residue, and should not be used with other media


  • If filaments clump or separate, completely clean all paint from the heel or ferrule end of the brush head using a full strength brush cleaner .


  1. For brushes used with oils, dip brush in household vegetable oil and wipe free of excess colour and oil with a soft, lint free rag.
  2. Brushes used with acrylic or water colour should be wiped clean on a lint free rag and then rinsed under running water.
  3. Clean brushes gently with mild soap or cleaner. Cold water for sable, luke warm for hog and synthetic. Swirl brush against a smooth, shallow surface (never in the palm of your hand, especially with brushes that may still contain oil or solvent).
  4. Wash and rinse until water runs clear from the brush. Take particular care to ensure that the heel of the brush is clean. Some pigments may stain the brush slightly, but this will not affect the performance or life of the hair.
  5. Gently re­shape the head and allow to dry.
  6. For brushes caked with dried acrylic or oil colour, use a cleaner & restorer.





Excerpt from Winsor & Newton's Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care - Jerrysartarama.com

Posted in acrylic brush, artists brushes, choosing brushes, oil painting brush, round brushes, watercolour brushes

How to Choose the Right Round Watercolour Brush

Posted on November 23, 2016 by Hayley McMachan

Over the years i have been asked many times which brushes i would recommend for a beginner to watercolour and recently spotted this article on the 'Artists & Illustrators' blog page. A Simple, useful article on the absolute must, the round watercolour brush!

How to Choose the Right Round Watercolour Brush

Faced with the vast array of watercolour brushes available from artists’ suppliers, even a fairly experienced painter might feel a little daunted. Diana Craig explains why round brushes are a good, all-rounder option and tests some of the best on the market.

Visiting an art shop or browsing any art supplies catalogue is a bit like looking into an Aladdin’s cave – it’s so full of goodies you don’t where to start. If you want to buy watercolour brushes, you’ll be confronted with rounds and flats, hakes and mops, filberts and fans and riggers.

In addition, you’ll be required to choose between a range of different fibres, from sable to squirrel to synthetic. You may ultimately want a comprehensive collection of brushes for a variety of different tasks, but for versatility it’s hard to beat a medium-sized No.8 or No.10 brush.

Calling these brushes ‘round’ is perhaps misleading because the heads more closely resemble a teardrop in shape, being rounded towards the base and slimming down to a point at the tip. It’s this shape that’s behind the versatility of the round brush, and a lot of work goes into getting it just right. The ‘belly’ (the bulbous part) needs to be in the lower part of the head. If it’s higher up, the brush will lack the required springiness. The belly is the brush’s reservoir – it’s where most of the wet paint is held. Applying gentle but firm pressure as you draw the brush across the paper opens out the head and releases the paint retained in the belly so that it flows onto the surface, to create bands of colour. Lightly touching the head to the paper means that less paint feeds through to the tip, allowing you to control your marks more and produce finer lines. Of course, you won’t be conscious of this process – it’s something you do instinctively.

The hair or fibre from which the head is made also determines how much paint it will hold and how well it will spring back into shape during use – and therefore how controllable the brush will be. The length of the handle is another factor to consider. Shorter handles seem to invite a tighter grip, and many artists find a length of around 15cm is the most comfortable to use and gives the greatest flexibility. Holding a longer handle close to the ferrule offers increased control and thus finer marks; holding it further down for looser wrist action and freer brushwork.


Sable is the aristocrat of brush hairs, with Kolinsky sable being the very finest. Red sable brushes are also of extremely high quality. The structure of this natural animal hair means that it holds liquid – and therefore watercolour – exceptionally well. It is also resilient, springing back into shape quickly. As always, though, you get what you pay for and sable isn’t cheap. But the good news is that, cared for properly, it can last for years.

Ox and squirrel hair

Although these are both natural fibres like sable, the difference in performance between the two groups is surprising. Manufacturers obviously strive for the highest quality but even they are limited by the nature of the material they are working with. They hold colour fairly well but the heads are somewhat floppy with little resilience, which makes them harder to control and to achieve the marks you want.

Sable blend

In an attempt to give their customers the best of both worlds in terms of both quality and price, manufacturers have come up with a clever solution: the sable blend, a mixture of sable and synthetic fibre.


Given that there is not a scrap of sable hair in their composition, brushes made of synthetic fibres such as nylon are an impressive lot. Shape retention and the firmness and springiness of the head were notable characteristics of all those tested. Durability is another of their qualities. If you can’t afford sable or even sable blends, synthetics are the way to go.

 Diana Craig

Posted in artists brushes, choosing brushes, round brushes, watercolour brushes

"I've been thinking a little about brushes" with John Worthington

Posted on April 27, 2016 by Hayley McMachan


I've been thinking a little about brushes recently...

Now that might seem like a slightly strange thing to say as a practising artist of many years standing, some years jumping and a few years of muddling, but in a way it's not...

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Posted in Artist, John Worthington